By Boris Kraft – CVO & Co-founder of Magnolia.
Agile has its roots in software development. Its primary goal is to enable teams to react and adapt to changing market environments and customer expectations, and to make a group’s planning and execution cycles less rigid and unrealistic. Agile means being open to changes in scope, so that each iteration still produces a working, shippable result.
The reality of digital transformation is that marketers are often faced with similar challenges: tight deadlines for massive projects, many different stakeholders, and most importantly the need to adapt to change quickly. After all, innovation and fierce competition can come out of nowhere, as evidenced by the rise of IoT.
That’s why many marketing organizations have realized that they, too, could and should go agile. Whether you do it “by the book” and adopt the well-known practices, or whether you just try to adhere to it “in spirit” doesn’t really matter – at the end of the day, agile allows marketing to deal with disruptive forces better. It brings structure into chaotic processes. It allows you to make better decisions on what to do when and why. And as a bonus side effect, it can also often be good for team morale.
Agile, at its core, is all about improving communications and collaboration. It wants to get employees to speak and listen to each other – so that they end up communicating both to internal stakeholders (across teams) and to external stakeholders, privately (e.g. in customer interviews) and publicly (on social media).
Start by building agile rituals into your day. For example, host a daily stand-up meeting, where each team member does a 2-minute report on her achievements, plans, and blockers. Next, you could go more fully fledged with something like campaign sprints. Whatever piece of agile you decide to adopt first, make sure that you keep at it every day, regardless of who’s busy or late. Keeping up with rituals will keep everyone motivated, engaged, and accountable.
Transforming your marketing team into an agile operation won’t happen overnight. It’ll require careful assessment of the current state of affairs, a potential redistribution of roles, executive buy-in, and iterative changes to optimize the process. For example, your team might not be used to roles such as “scrum master” or “product owner”. It might not be in the company culture to work in sprints of 2-4 weeks (campaigns usually take longer and have a wider scope). With all of these new processes and concepts, you need patience and the courage to adapt them to your needs as you go.
Another traditionally little used or known element might be cross-team collaboration – but it’s absolutely essential to agile success. It might be a big change to work cross-departmentally (beyond a somewhat standard collaboration between sales and marketing), but it’ll take your insights to the next, more actionable level- and as the results from one project or campaign sprint ultimately inform the next, it’s beneficial to have everyone on the same page from the start.
For agile practices to work, each team member needs to feel safe – safe to make mistakes, to fail and learn from them. If a culture of fear is what your team is operating under, that will likely kill the agile spirit very soon. As a manager of an agile team, you are responsible for, well, managing other people’s expectations to protect your team’s priorities, as well as motivating every member of your team in their tasks. If they’re doing agile right, they’ll act fairly independently, but they’ll still appreciate reassurance.
Marketing teams sometimes use numbers to forcefully justify a rather non-analytical plan, rather than start with stats and use them to plan out the next steps. With agile, decisions and iterations are often based on hard numbers, rather than convenient anecdotes. Use all of the data that you gather (whether it be manually or automatically) to inform your decisions wherever you can.
Marketing can be a competitive environment. Agile relies on empowering the individual and the team, making it so that everyone can grow and progress. A big part of that is expressing what you’re grateful for in other team members, which can conflict with overly big egos. Express gratitude and share credit whenever you can. This also means that you have to establish a very honest environment, where you can speak about successes and failures openly (this is the whole point of agile retrospectives, for example).
A big point of agile is thinking of the user first. In marketing, this translates to: think of the customer first! Customers can be internal or external – the important thing is to establish a feedback loop with all your stakeholders and listen to their requirements, so that you can build a meaningful backlog with materials that are relevant to them (and thus to future customers, too). Understanding your current customers is key to winning over new ones. Create personas. Write user stories. Think of who you’re talking to, and of what they want to hear. Incorporating feedback in the process instead of planning and then unveiling a product will likely move it closer to a customer’s expectations. And: make sure customer data is in one central place of the organization, so that everyone has access to it – avoid silos.
You don’t have to use the full suite of agile practices at once (though this paper gives good insight into the basics) – start with focusing on integrating the cornerstones of the agile mindset into everything you do: cross-team collaboration, customer-centricity, and a metrics-driven attitude.
What steps has your marketing organization taken to be more agile?